Author Archives: Rick Howard

LTAD Models and Filling the Talent Pool by Rick Howard

We are all “athletes”

Long term athletic development (LTAD) is a hot topic. I am excited to be part of two national initiatives to identify how best to implement a long term plan for children and youth in the US. I feel that LTAD is not the best name for a long-term plan to engage kids in a lifelong effort to not only play sports but also be physically active across the lifespan.  Being “athletic,” as it relates to having motor skill competence, self-efficacy of movement skills, and positive experiences in physical education, sports, and play are key indicators of continued participation in sports and physical activity. If athletic is properly defined, we can all agree that it is appropriate, but other terms such as participant, youth, or physical activity have been suggested. Some key contributors to the plan may be turned off by the term athletic, so it is critical to the success of an LTAD plan that all key players in youth sport, recreation, physical education, health, government and education agree on the terminology in order to work together to make an LTAD model a successfully implemented reality.

LTAD models and filling the Talent Pool

To fill the talent pool, we need to provide ALL kids multiple opportunities to participate in a wide variety of sports and physical activities. LTAD models create a generic guide that can be used to plan the long-term phases and progressions of any sport/activity. With our current over-emphasis on product (winning, competition, and early sport specialization) and our under-emphasis on process (learning fundamental motor skills and applying them in a variety of activities, based on where each child is on the developmental continuum) we clearly need a document to guide and educate coaches, parents, teachers and other persons of influence to do what is best for kids.

The cornerstone of an effective LTAD model is an early start (often between 6 and 8 years of age) on learning fundamental movement skills in a fun, interactive, and dynamic environment. Part of physical literacy is that powerful movement vocabulary must be taught before specific sports skills can be learned and applied. This is why it is so critical to have a certified movement professional, that is, quality physical education teacher, at the elementary level. Without successful adaptation within the critical preadolescent years, it becomes increasingly difficult to engage youngsters in physical activity and nearly impossible to coach them on the path to the master level of athletics when they reach adolescence.

The most popular model to date is the Canadian LTAD model (  The visual representation of their model looks like this:

The Canadian model established clear stages for developing physical literacy and is predominantly physiological in design (more so than social and psychological).  While it has an exit to their Active for Life stage it does not include re-entry points for physical activity throughout the year, which I feel is extremely important (see Ford: for more information on this key topic). For example, when kids are pushed into early specialization in one sport and they end up not being as competitive as their peers by age 10 or 11, they have not only lost out on key periods of developing fundamental movement skills but also often find themselves without the skill set for other sports and activities and drop out entirely. Key Ingredients for a successful model, then, include identifying key participants, focusing on positive youth development, and incorporating both sports and play.

Challenges to Implementation

Establishing a national model for LTAD is imminent, but there are several reasons we cannot simply adopt a model already created:

  • US Sports model differs from other nations– we do not have a government run sport system and our school-based sports program is unique. Funding, equitable access, and partnering need to be addressed as appropriate to each sport program, community, and stakeholder.
  • Not every sport progresses in parallel and not every participant progresses at the same rate– many models follow a chronological age format with sports developmental levels based on age groups, which may not be the best way to set cutoffs and categories.
  • Requires paradigm shift from product to process– our culture is so ingrained with our “win at all cost, no matter what age” mentality that it is going to take a Herculean effort by everyone involved to change that mindset.
  • Need all shareholders to buy in for maximum implementation– there are many agencies, institutions, systems and individuals that must come together to provide a consistent message that positive youth physical, social, and psychological development is Priority #1.

I will keep you posted on my blog as we continue to develop the plan and work on the implementation strategy.

Playing lots of games without practicing is like taking lots of tests without studying (Learning)


(A related article I wrote for the National Strength and Conditioning Association can be found here: )

10 Ways Strongman Training Improves Athleticism is a great site for information on strength training. I recently had this article accepted on their site.

Ten Ways Strongman Training Improves Athleticism

By: Rick Howard, M.Ed, CSCS, *D, USAW


The best definition for athleticism I have seen comes from Vern Gambetta: Athleticism is the ability to execute athletic movements at optimum speed with precision, style and grace in the context of the sport or activity. The interrelated components of athleticism include strength, explosive coordination, energy, flexibility, and endurance. Strongman training can be used to improve these qualities in a linear training model either during general physical preparation (off-season training) for athletes of other sports,  as sport-specific training (late off-season to early pre-season), or as strongman-specific training. Strongman training has also been incorporated into non-linear models and conjugate training (such as Westside). Whichever way strongman training is implemented, athleticism is enhanced– here are 10 ways:

  1. Develops horizontal force production. Most sports occur while moving and require horizontal force production in order to move, while many traditional strength training exercises, such as squats and bench presses, move through a specific bar path vertically.
  2. Carrying vs. lifting.  Carrying exercises (sometimes referred to as dynamic resistance) challenge core stabilization differently than lifting exercises do, and better match the unpredictable external forces of contact sports, in particular.
  3. Imperfection training. In order to avoid injury (but often can lead to injury), exercises are often prescribed either on machines or familiar exercises with perfect technical execution. Effective injury prevention techniques include learning how to miss a lift and imperfection training, which Mel Siff refers to as “the capability of coping with unexpected and sub-optimal conditions.” These techniques better prepare athletes for potentially harmful situations. Strongman training is a great way to train the effects of shifting of sand, fluid, or buckshot to stabilize an object.
  4. Complement to traditional strength training. No question, powerlifting and Olympic lifts are the foundation of strength training programs, but strongman training provides an excellent application of many of these lifts as well as alternative methods for developing fitness attributes.
  5. Improves all strength attributes. Strongman training can improve speed-strength, strength-speed, maximum strength, hypertrophy, and strength-endurance. Programs can be written that are strongman-only training or strongman exercises infused into more traditional strength training programs.
  6. Sport-specific movement. Triple extension (hips, knees, and ankles) is a requisite for explosiveness seen in many sports and strongman exercises such as atlas stones require coordinated triple extension. Grip strength, holding (such as with sandbags), and releasing of objects all factor into sport-specific movements and enhanced athleticism.
  7. Adds variety to training program. This is especially valuable for those of us who have been training for many years and for those who have gotten stale following a structured linear program. For me, strongman training has reinvigorated my overall training plan and focus.
  8. Improves anaerobic endurance.  By manipulating training variables, such as completing as many reps as possible in prescribed time period,  increasing distance covered or increasing weight within prescribed distance, and shortening rest periods can lead to not only improvements in strength-endurance but also anaerobic work capacity, both of which contribute to delayed onset of fatigue.
  9. Isometric contractions revisited: static hold training. Most exercise routines include concentric (muscle shortens) and eccentric (muscle lengthens) muscle actions. Strongman has “reintroduced” the strength benefits of isometric (muscle length does not change) exercises. Strongman challenges the muscles isometrically when athletes attempt to hold extremely heavy objects for extended periods of time, such as farmers walk and sandbags. Increased isometric strength contributes to overall improvements in strength.
  10. Establishes teamwork and camaraderie. The strongman community is stronger than any individual lifter. Competitors celebrate each other’s success, use success to breed more success, and cultivate an environment where no excuses, maximum effort training is expected. That’s what teamwork is all about.


While modern strongman competitions date back to 1977 and individual feats of strength go back much further, contemporary methods of strongman training continue to evolve.  Use these 10 reasons (and others not listed here) to continue to improve strength and athleticism for yourself and your strength crew.


Gambetta, V. Athleticism. Retrieved from


Verkhoshansky, Y.  and Siff, M. Supertraining (6th ed.) Ultimate Athlete Concepts, 2009. P. 466-467.

Zemke, B. and Wright, G. The use of strongman type implements and training to increase sport performance in collegiate athletics. Strength Cond J 33: 1-7, 2011.

Measure Progress, Don’t Just Assess

What gets measured gets managed

How we measure kids’ progress in youth fitness/talent development needs to be re-evaluated. Have you ever considered whether the current assessment system in sports or physical education actually measures what it says it measures, that is, is it valid? Several of the tests currently in place do not have validity, and we have eliminated some tests where children were unsuccessful, rather than teach/coach/reinforce the skill and strength needed to be successful. Other tests are being (wrongly) used to identify future talent, which can lead to burnout of early maturers and lack of continued participation for late bloomers. We are caught in a downward spiral of measuring health-fitness components at the expense of movement skills and skill-fitness, leading to incomplete fitness that is not youth focused.

I need to emphasize that mastery of movement skills doesn’t magically appear for most kids, even with plenty of free play. These skills need to be taught by teachers and coaches, especially during childhood, for pre-adolescents to have the opportunity to learn, rehearse, and practice fundamental movement skills. Building upon fundamental movement skills, kids need to develop physical literacy in a variety of physical skills. Margaret Whitehead is the leading advocate for physical literacy and her encompassing definition of physical literacy is quite useful when establishing our framework for measuring progress: “As appropriate to each individual’s endowment, physical literacy can be described as the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to maintain physical activity throughout the life course.” Colleagues Rhodri Lloyd and Jon Oliver in the UK have put together an excellent model of positive youth development (2012), that includes training not only fundamental movement skills but also emphasizes training ALL determinants of physical fitness throughout childhood and adolescence, including muscle strength, muscle endurance, agility, power, and speed.

It is more appropriate, therefore, within the context of physical literacy to chart progress toward developing physical literacy rather than assessing where a student may land in any  given grade or measure at any given age. Think about that for a second… if our goal is to create lifelong physical activity enthusiasts, our measurements should look at progress toward that goal!

Our Current System

In our current system we measure only a handful of physical traits year after year, namely heart fitness, muscle fitness (muscle strength and endurance inappropriately lumped together), flexibility and body composition. We seldom, if ever, measure ALL components of physical competence and fitness nor do we chart the progress made for each child throughout his/her development. It is important to remember here that youth development is not always linear, so growth spurts, for example, can influence assessment, which is another justification for measuring progress throughout the youth development process. One measure that Istvan Balyi, the man behind Canada’s Long-Term Athletic Development (LTAD) model (2004) recommends throughout childhood and adolescence is to chart height and weight every year so that the age at which peak height velocity occurs can be determined.

But something as simple as tracking height and weight year-to-year turns out to be not so simple. Kids may change schools, teams, towns, etc. so the responsibility will need to be shared by schools, after-school programs, and parents, and a determination needs to be made as the best approach for each youngster. If we adopt a physical literacy approach with ongoing measurements of progress being made, the mindset will shift so that key measures will be tracked during the school years. Let’s take a look at what we might want to track and why.

Sample Measurements to Help Track Progress

Movement Capacities

Whitehead (2007) lays out an informative way to look at movement capacities. Across the developmental continuum we can first teach simple movement like balance, coordination, and flexibility. Incorporating multiple ways to improve the simple movements leads us to integrating movements such as with agility- that combines flexibility, balance, and coordination (see also Tudor Bompa’s Periodization book (2000) for great information on the interdependence of biomotor abilities). Complex movement involves further combinations of capacities such as hand-eye coordination needing orientation in space, agility, and dexterity. It is important to remember here that while movement capacities are generally developed from simple through complex, there is no built in hierarchy.

Movement Patterns

Also important to examine are general movement patterns, such as striking. As we see too often, children are not being set for success in demonstrating movement patterns in game situations, for example, because the teacher or coach skips the teaching/coaching progressions to enhance skills in simple movement and general patterns and focuses on contest outcomes. The result is a poor result—children don’t get the requisite motor skills and feeling of motor skill competence and self-efficacy to enjoy participating in lifelong physical activity. So, if the general pattern of striking is not taught and practiced, applying this skill in a refined pattern such as batting in a baseball/softball game will be even less successful.

Attitudes and Behaviors

In addition to physical capacities, attention needs to be paid to developing positive attitudes and behaviors. Teaching children and youth the positive benefits of participating in sports/physical activity helps them become intrinsically motivated to perform and continue to be physically active for their entire lives. One criticism of many LTAD models is that not enough emphasis is placed on the psychological and social aspects of youth development. According to Whitehead (p. 78), by the time youngsters leave school it is possible to predict 70-80% of their degree of engagement in sport and exercise from their score on a physical self-perception profile. Clearly, more attention to this type of measurement is needed in order for us to help all kids.

A shared vision to Fill the Talent Pool

This is an excellent opportunity to have multiple stakeholders in the positive development of our youth collaborate on filling the talent pool. A continuum of progress needs to be implemented in sports and fitness programs before, during, and after school. Each stakeholder is responsible to work collaboratively with other stakeholders to ensure that all kids get the opportunities to be physically active, get the quality instruction they need to be physically competent, and become physically literate so that their self-perception continues to intrinsically motivate them to be physically active for a lifetime. One excellent example of this community engagement is for all sport and fitness programs to meet and agree on clearly defined seasons which will limit over-scheduling and conflicts that sometimes arise limiting the ability to participate in a wide variety of sports and physical activities. Another suggestion is to have a progress measurement tool that follows the kids from sport to sport and year to year to guide teachers, coaches and parents in providing instruction and choices that will lead to mastery, as Margaret Whitehead says, “as appropriate to each individual’s endowment.”

“Lessons” from the Super Bowl

by: Rick Howard

Aren’t we always espousing the benefits of sports, such as how sports develop sportsmanship? Isn’t part of why we’re so excited to fill the talent pool that we also are creating citizens who will positively contribute to society?

Well then, what about the Super Bowl? What better stage to show our young people that sportsmanship matters!! In youth sport, aren’t we always encouraging the end-of-game line up and handshake with the other team? Don’t we often comment that the mark of great athletes and sportsmen is that it is difficult to distinguish who won and who lost at the end of the game? Aren’t we often upset when we hear that teams cannot conduct themselves properly during this time-honored tradition?


Look, I understand that emotions run high in the Super Bowl. Endorsement potential is huge. Popularity can skyrocket. But why can’t our professional athletes, in the biggest game of their lives, walk the walk?

If we want our young athletes to value sportsmanship and if we continue to expose our young athletes to talent above theirs in order for them to benefit and succeed, then can’t we ask athletes at those levels to remember who is looking up to them, who is going to emulate them in their youth games, and who’s impressionable eyes are on the Super Bowl?

Let’s bring back the team handshake with style. That would be a better focus for our aspiring athletes than a half-time show (it was a great show, though, but there are concerns about the half-time show if there is inclement weather during the Super Bowl at Giants Stadium). How great would it be for kids to see their favorite athlete displaying good sportsmanship at the end of the game, just like the kids are asked to do? And, if we ever are fortunate again to have brothers participating as players or coaches, wouldn’t it be great for their parents to meet them both at midfield and congratulate them together on their outstanding accomplishment, and for the brothers to congratulate each other for their success, win or lose?

Fill the Talent Pool with sportsmanship at ALL levels of play!!


How tall is your pyramid?

by: Rick Howard

Build the Base

According to Martin Rooney, author of Training for Warriors (not to mention awe-inspiring displays by Egyptians, Mayans, and esteemed mathematicians), a pyramid can only be as tall as its base. How does this revelation help you fill the talent pool?


All youth athletes need to develop a strong physical, social, and psychological foundation (the base of the youth development pyramid) in order to realize not only athletic potential but also to have the skills, confidence, and poise to be physically active for their entire lives. Unfortunately, however, the youth sport and the youth physical education/physical activity popular cultures are “built” on bases that are too narrow to support complete youth development at each youngster’s appropriate level.

What should youth sports be doing to build the base?

Youth sport programs must produce results to generate customers. But being the U-9 champs should NOT BE the primary objective. The focus should not be on the product (winning) but on the process (engaging). Less than 0.01 % of Little League World Series players ever play professional baseball.  Statistics on the ever-elusive-college-scholarship are equally as dismal. The pressure to win often leads to burnout, injury, and discontinuation not only in the sport but in physical activity, in general. The result youth sports programs SHOULD BE producing is successful movers in a variety of environments, with an eye on continued improvement, enjoyment, and participation (did you know that 70% of kids drop out of youth sports by age 13?).

Is being physically active enough?

The physical education/physical activity paradigm has shifted emphasis from building a strong foundation through motor skill development, sports skills, tactics and strategies, and positive attitude toward games, fitness, and sport to what they call lifetime fitness activities (defined by adults, not kids). These activities include: walking, jogging, swimming, tennis, and weight training. While part of an active lifestyle, shouldn’t all youth be exposed to a variety of sports and activities so that they can make the choice which one(s) to continue throughout the lifespan? The answer, of course, is YES!!  Physical fitness (improving qualities like strength, endurance, balance, power, and speed) has been replaced with health-fitness (which, in theory would help kids decrease risk of cardiovascular disease, low back pain, etc. but has not been longitudinally measured) and includes cardiorespiratory endurance, muscle strength and endurance, flexibility and body composition.

Lifetime fitness activities and health-related fitness are only a piece of the puzzle, certainly not enough to build a pyramid. Sports are often what excite kids to exercise, be outdoors, go to school, etc. (It’s no accident that the spokespersons for most fitness and activity programs are athletes, with whom kids (and adults) can identify— —not low back pain specialists or cardiologists). By focusing on the end-product of being moderately to vigorously active within a very narrow performance base, with no measurement of progress of becoming proficient movers, is selling our kids short.

How you can broaden the base to help Fill the Talent Pool

So, how do you broaden the base of the pyramid with positive physical, social, and psychological skills to make the pyramid be as tall (leading to physically literacy) as possible? Include, at all developmental stages, for both boys and girls:

  • Physical components, such as strength building, agility and balance, speed, and fundamental motor skills, incorporated into a variety of sports and games opportunities
  • Social components, such as trying different activities with different groups of youngsters, providing non-structured play opportunities, and ensuring that a consistent message of sportsmanship, camaraderie, and teamwork permeates the organization
  • Psychological components, such as providing positive experiences that lead to the development of intrinsic motivation, matching youngsters to sports and activities that are age-related, not age-determined, and knowing how to provide proper cues and feedback at different stages of development,

The incredible challenge is that not every child is at the same developmental level at the same time and developmental progress is not always linear (i.e. there may be some back-sliding along the way—that’s ok!). The base of the pyramid does not need to be a regimented program of drills and exercises but a carefully thought out plan (which involves your aspiring lifelong sport/physical activity participant) that balances youth sport, physical education, structured and unstructured play, and being a kid!

Keep filling the talent pool!!


Fill the Talent Pool

By: Rick Howard

The tag line for my blog is “Fill the Talent Pool.” What can you do to be sure that we are providing every youngster the opportunity to participate in healthy-habit developing sports and activity? Consider the three key words in Fill the Talent Pool:

  1. Fill: this implies that we have not yet reached our peak level, which we have not
  2. Talent: this does not necessarily mean elite talent, but maximizing each child’s ability
  3. Pool: the pool is every child having the opportunity to enjoy, participate, and reach their potential

Our current system, unfortunately, suffers from the following:

  1. Diluting the talent pool: by encouraging only a select few to enjoy this opportunity, through clubs, select teams, and other forms of early specialization, we end up leaving many aspiring athletes behind, burning out the early maturers so that they no longer want to play and perhaps not the select few who can take it to the next level,
  2. Having a pool with the wrong notion of talent: by trying to identify talent too early, overplaying youth that display early talent, and ignoring best practices of developing talent through a variety of sport and activity experiences, we exploit talent too early and neglect to nurture talent development throughout childhood
  3. Not having the right people in place to fill the pool: many well-intentioned parents and other volunteers step up to help kids get the experience of sportsmanship, camaraderie, winning and losing, and being part of something bigger than they.

So, you can play a huge role to Fill the Talent Pool!

  1. Fill your kids with the passion to be active and to try a variety of sports and activities
  2. Let kids know their Talent is in their continued effort and improvement
  3. Encourage all kids to get in the Pool and be the best they can be

Keep reading this blog to learn the latest in youth sports, youth fitness, and youth coaching so we can all work together to Fill the Talent Pool.



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